|London, ON Courthouse|
The accused are a local couple who kidnapped, raped and killed Tori Stafford. It's very gruesome and - for Canada - quite atypical, although there have been previous cases of equal sordidness. At the same time, the violent crime rate continues to fall in this country, as it is in the United States.
Local media are all over this - not surprisingly. Columnists are raised the high dudgeon bar to new heights, while newscasts warn listeners and viewers that the content in the reporting "may be disturbing to some."
This is another example of news pornography with the media playing their accustomed role of titillating truth-tellers while spreading moral panic about people who kill little girls.
While this is a story that must be reported, the frenzy of some journalists is adding to the coarsening of our media culture. It seems to have been ever thus.
So I was pleased when I got a letter (yes, an actual posted letter. With stamps!) from a reporter based in Hong Kong. He is looking for a teaching job at my university and he proposed that, because of his legal training and background in the UK, he would like to teach a course in Crime Reporting.
Which got me thinking about how little news organizations or journalism schools spend on teaching something to which media increasingly devote much ink and airtime.
The problem with most crime reporting, I mused to my Hong Kong correspondent, is that it is usually so uncritical and without much context. Journalists are overly dependent on police and legal sources and happy to be limited in that way. Skepticism - usually a journalistic virtue - seems entirely missing when it comes to the police beat. Crime reporting is more about stenography than journalism.
The story in London, Ontario is a case in point: who are the accused killers (the female partner has already confessed and is testifying against her former lover)? How did they end up this way? What are their histories? What is it about rural Ontario that produces these people? Instead we are getting much lurid details all admitted into evidence, and so worth reporting.
The verdict seems to be a foregone conclusion. But the lack of serious journalism in this instance is deeply troubling. It may be time to build a course on Crime Journalism at the university level.